One Promo Supplier's Product Partnerships Show Why It Pays to Give Back (and Why Corporate Social Responsibility Is Here to Stay)
On the first day of exhibits at PPAI Expo 2019, a crowd had gathered in front of the Compass Industries booth. The show floor had opened a few hours before, and the early rush had dispersed into a modest flow of traffic that would build slowly to peak capacity later in the day. Yet here was a throng of people gathered around a small tub full of water, elbowing their way in to get a look.
The crowd was there to see Compass’s Luci Lights, created and manufactured by MPOWERD, a certified B Corporation whose mission is to provide a safe, renewable lighting source for the 3 billion people around with world without access to reliable electricity. MPOWERD has worked with nonprofits and NGOs to distribute the inflatable, collapsible, floating, solar-powered lights to medical facilities in Uganda, schools on small Caribbean islands and disaster victims across the globe. Compass, based in New York City, partnered with MPOWERD to bring the Luci to the promotional channel, donating one light for every 10 sold to MPOWERD’s give-back program.
At Expo, that wasn’t why the lights had attracted so much attention. That had more to do with the clever water-tub display, the glowing lights bobbing up and down like mildly radioactive apples at a Halloween party. (It probably also had something to do with the “crush test,” in which one of the inflatable lights withstood the full weight of an adult man standing on it.) But the cause behind the Luci is what has put the lights, and Compass, at the forefront of the promo industry’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts thereafter.
As we’ve covered extensively, CSR is becoming a bigger and bigger deal for buyers in both retail and promo. Compass knows that, and the supplier has made it part of its own mission to offer products that help brands not only meet their advertising and marketing goals, but also match their core values by supporting social and environmental causes. This is the way the industry is heading. It’s what consumers and brands want.
“Do you have a great product? Does it fit with Compass? Can it be imprinted?” said Keith Barbalato, marketing and project manager for Compass. “Does this product serve to make an impact by giving back, whether that is through charitable donation with each purchase, complying with the best practices when it comes to sustainability, or even better: Does the item itself help symbolize a cause, or fuel the mission of a greater cause? These are new questions we are asking to keep up with retail and consumer trends and to bring that to the promotional products industry so that co-branding opportunities are available for companies that share these values.”
Compass is doing more than asking the questions. It’s answering them. In addition to EMPOWERD, the supplier recently partnered with Be Bottle, a drinkware company dedicated to cutting down on plastic consumption. For every bottle purchased, Be Bottle makes a donation to Water.org to help provide access to safe drinking water in the developing world.
“We’re new to focusing on product lines that have giving back at the forefront of their business model,” said Barbalato. “But we are seeing that CSR is becoming more and more of an interest to distributors and their clients in our industry, and there is a lot of excitement around the idea. It is absolutely a feature selling point and, for some businesses, a priority for their clients. I think as time goes on and as a younger crowd of consumers and distributors have a bigger piece of the buying power in our industry, this will become even more important.”
Barbalato was at the Compass booth that day at Expo. He saw the buzz around the Luci. And he sees the tremendous opportunity products like it create for promo businesses. Companies with a good CSR track record and the ability to offer products that support important causes will have a leg up on those that don’t. That’s a powerful tool in a competitive market—and, beyond that, it’s the right thing to do.
“We’re excited to be on the frontlines of CSR within the promo space,” Barbalato said. “Moving towards sustainability and better products that people can feel good about consuming is important to us. One of the reasons that we have stood out as a supplier in this industry is that we have products that last. They might cost more, but they offer longevity and usefulness. Offering products that address sustainability in a more direct way, beyond being something that someone will use and keep for a long time, is a great step forward for Compass, the promotional products industry, and recipients and users of promo products.”